Your camera can do more than explore the world, it can be an instrument of change.

Heart Gallery of America, which is comprised of dozens of chapters — one in almost every state — uses photos and videos to help kids in need of forever homes.

Matthew Straeb, co-founder and president of the Sarasota chapter, says oftentimes images of kids waiting to be adopted are so poor that nobody would be “inspired” to get an emotional attachment to the child.

That’s where Heart Gallery steps in.

How it works

The organization connects a child who agrees to be photographed or filmed with a volunteer. The volunteer spends a short time with the child, earning their trust and getting them to open up, laugh, smile and be themselves in front of the camera. 

It’s not always easy since a child waiting to be adopted can be guarded, Straeb says. Most of the time, the kids chosen are considered “difficult to adopt.” Many times, it’s their first time being photographed. But Straeb says photographers are patient as they try to capture the child and their “spirit through a photograph.” The image or footage then is displayed on social media or the organization’s website, with the hopes of inspiring families to connect with that child.

Adoptions go up by 25% in areas where there is a heart gallery, Straeb says. He helped start the organization 12 years ago, after considering adoption. He says he was “underwhelmed” by the kids’ black and white "mug shots." Straeb, who works on missions through his local church and used to work in the film industry, says he thought this could be his way of giving back.

How you can get involved

Heart Gallery is looking for volunteers who have an eye and are good with people and are willing to undergo a selection process. Get more information on the Heart Gallery website: www.heartgalleryofamerica.org.